A liberal metamodernist manifesto
Often titled new pragmatism or new sincerity, metamodernism is a constructive critique of postmodernism, that still hasn’t quite become mainstream news yet – for good reason. Metamodernism until recently, has been a term limited mostly to art critics. I want to help change that.
In its current sense, metamodernism as a concept originated in the turn of the 2000’s, with early ideas by art and literature historians. Metamodernism was however not so much an invention as it was an observation. Metamodernism was a discovered popular divergence from the typical ”late modernist” (”neoliberal”) and postmodern (”new leftist”) thinking, that dominates all developed Western societies. Metamodernism became a collective term to describe Internet-era progressive thought, that was different from the common ”progressive”.
Perhaps the strongest contribution to early attempts to define metamodernism was by cultural philosophers Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van der Akker, who started the arts and culture zine Notes on metamodernism in 2010. This spawned the somewhat cryptic 2011 website Metamodernist Manifesto by Luke Turner of the LaBeouf (us), Rönkkö (fi) & Turner (uk) collective. Metamodernism has gone from an observation to being a collection of people meeting up to wonder what it is about. That is all good. But I believe it is time to join the existing metamodernist thought into a movement.
But to understand metamodernism, we need to first understand modernist and postmodernist thought.
Modern or modernist thought represents a era of idealistic and industrial-futuristic progress-as-virtue thinking in the 1900s and late 1800s. The base ideals were connected to the Age of Enlightenment. You could say that modern thinking gave us flight, space flight, advanced medicine and economic growth – but also environmental disasters and weapons of mass destruction. Something that stands out in the history of modernism is reactionary modernism, that saw the future in technology, but turned against the intellectual ideals of the enlightenment and liberal democracy. That spawned the fascism we know.
Postmodern or postmodernist thought in turn represents a reaction against the overkills of modernism: the environmental movement against industrial disasters, the hippie subculture against the modernist ”official truth” society, the sexual revolution against the modernist ”prison of dictated rationality” and the anti-war movement against the abundance of ever-developing killing-machines. Today’s postmodernism culminates in new, subjectivist movements of feminism, in a post-meaning subjectivist cultural deconstruction of the past, and in many leftist and environmental movements. One could call this postmodern progressivism.
The anxieties of the postmodern corporate-modernist era
I think, like many others, that mainstream western society is now stuck in a complicated mish-mash of so-called late modernist and postmodern thought going haywire. Marxists have called this era ”late capitalism” in an attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the era, where you can witness the conservative CEO of a weapons factory supplying civil wars use his humongous end-of-the-year bonus to buy a painting of plastic bags in an aquarium, painted by a 27-year old gay anti-war, anti-capitalist Facebook idol (Sponsored).
In itself, late modernism seems to be a valueless, unidealistic and watered-down, multinational, corporate-friendly version of modernist progress, that probably started gaining ground somewhere in the late 1970s. Coca-Cola-as-freedom. Its loved-hated spouse, postmodernism, is also not a fixed set of ideas, but rather defined by critical reactions against everything late modernism suggests. If late modernism is short-sighted and only walks towards the next gold nugget it can see, postmodernism is walking backwards, only seeing what it’s already gone past. To no surprise, it’s a complicated marriage. You want GMO’s? Sure, let’s also inject DDT into our children while we’re at it! Stem cell research? Nazi Germany replay! The anxieties of postmodernism have become an antithesis to change, which late modernism is mostly perfectly fine with.
That’s not to say postmodernism and late modernism are wrong. Despite providing us with surprisingly stable peacetime societies, late modernism has failed us in the sense that it doesn’t direct us towards anything. Late modernism is really only concerned with keeping everything roughly as it is, forever. Stability at any cost. The only life goal late modernism seems to propose, is to win an enormous king-of-the-hill game about who gets to be ”the establishment” and dictate what is ”mainstream”.
Combined with the postmodernist roadblock mentality, the ”End of History”, western society easily turns into a breeding ground for rampant nihilism. The fault doesn’t lie in postmodernism either, per se, but rather in that human beings seem to be addicted and dependent on tribal myths; narratives. They give regular people an idea of their place in society and grants them a meaningful mission to accomplish. We all want to be heroes, however small. The only hero of late modernism is the person who doesn’t have to care about money anymore.
The rising reactionary postmodernism
I’m going to claim, that the reason we’re seeing a neo-fascist ”alt-right” and jihadist terrorism in a time of increasing secularism, is precisely because these reactionary ideologies provide people with the rank and mission that people hunger for, in their respective cultural-societal voids.
That’s also not to say that jihadist terrorism and neo-fascism as ideaologies spawn out of nowhere. The recruiters of radicalization know exactly where to look for their fresh meat and cannon fodder; in the young and frustrated twenty-thirty-something males, that have developed a feeling the values and life goals of their upbringing have been betrayed by mainstream society. What is perhaps even more telling of radicalized young men, is that the ones who to turn into perpetrators of horrendous terror crimes often seem to have spent a lot of time desperately scrounging for any ideology whatsoever, that will replace their ”loser identity” with a sense of moral superiority – even heroic hubris – over mainstream society. Just read in on radicalism, and you will find that pattern throughout history.
Jihadism is not a western cultural phenomenon, and can’t be understood as such. It’s not really about poverty or discrimination. Rather, it’s something that spawned out of some conflict of the mind between regional islamic culture and western late modernism.
The reactionary ”paleoconservative” thinking of the ”alt right” too, seems to stem from a reactionary reaction against late modernism, but specifically against it’s disconcern for the citizens who didn’t benefit from the new global technological-financial economy. Those of us who didn’t get the higher education, who didn’t get the white-collar establishment careers – i.e. those who didn’t get to ride the cart. The new western reactionaries, with their pseudo-nationalist authoritarian rhetoric, target postmodern culture specifically because it is not of them, but of the winners in late modernism. The new reactionaries were never pro-immigration to begin with, but it was of no consequence as long as they didn’t compete with them for political attention. With immigrants seen as the new favorite children of postmodern late modernism, they are only a logical target for the frustrations of sibling envy. ”It wasn’t his fault”; ”He’s just from a bad background”; ”You have it easy; you’re white”.
That’s not to say the reactionaries are right. It is however important to understand where their rhetoric and hatred comes from. And I’m going to give the tip of the year:
If you come from a liberal, educated, establishment background, you’ll do a much better job at understanding the reactionaries if you think of them as children throwing a tantrum – you being the parent, because they are talking to you. The fact that they can’t communicate their anxieties, fears and experienced injustices in the logical arguments and academic terms you expect, does not mean their problems aren’t real. They are very real. But just like exhausted children becoming restless and emotional, the reactionaries are very bad at identifying the root causes of their distress, and instead focus on describing the triggers that make them go off like bombs.
But because nobody was very interested in the root causes of their distress and simply waved them off with ”white privilege”; and because nobody ever gave them an alternative that they could comprehend; Brexiters, Trumpeteers and western Putinists all seem to call for a return to a great golden age before the postmodern late-modernist marriage; an era that everyone who knows history can tell is not golden and rather fictional. But instead of being old-fashioned modernist reactionaries, they have become subjectivist, ”post-truth” reactionary postmodernists. It’s no longer about what is real, but what you feel.
To very many people, that is the only proposition of change from their felt first world problems of unemployment, rising living costs and diminishing economic opportunities. It should sound like a weird mashup of early 1900’s frustration and postmodern academic litterature, because it is. And that’s scary.
The time for something completely different
What if instead of defending late modern postmodernism, with its absurd identity politics as political currency; its cynical smile-and-wave political campaigns void of ideas; its distrust of both objective science and technological progress; and its implicit marriage to the corporate-financial elite’s status quo;
and instead of looking for answers in the anti-global reactionary paleoconservatism, that despite its (Hitler-and-Stalin-esque) promises of ”work for everyone”; will inevitably make our economies outdated and unsustainable; is by nature hateful, anti-freedom and anti-equal; despises experts and makes the hillbilly king; and provides us with no real vision of a better future;
we should look, for the brighter future we can no longer see, in the synthetic fusion of the nostalgia in modernist futurism and the well-reasoned postmodern criticisms of it.
So let us not be bigot, post-truth, retro-fordists. Let us not be the postmodern, ”truth is dead” -pessimist roadblocks against new invention and human advancement. Instead, let us adopt a sincere belief, that we can and should advance humanity beyond the status quo, beyond the postmodern and late modern, and that it’s us, and nobody else, that can – and need to – do it. DO IT.
This does mean struggle. Nothing comes for free. The future will not come, if we stand idly by and watch the reactionaries destroy what is worth living for in this world. We must ally ourselves against those, who wish to take us back in time, and convert those, who are afraid to move forward, for Metamodernism is the rebellion against the end of history. We must both grow roots into the establishment, and be the voice of the street. We must be the media, the business, the experts and the labourforce.
Metamodernism is the quest for a new, optimistic but self-reflecting making-the-world-a-better-place – not by deconstructing the past, but by creating the future. Postmodernism was nothing but a stage of metamorphosis of something bigger to come. Metamodernism is the new renaissance, the new enlightenment, the revolution, crawling out of it’s pupa. It’s time to let it fly.
Let’s again care about discovering and discussing objective truth, regardless of if it makes us awkward and un-cool. Let’s say we honestly care about issues, and want to act on them in the best ways we can imagine. Let’s be curious and welcoming of new best ways. Let’s be politically incorrect champions of unalienable human rights everywhere. Let’s be the new pragmatic idealistis of new sustainable societies.
Let’s be the protectors of the early Internet era hopes and dreams of international friendship and cooperation.
Let’s form an alliance of scientists, creatives and artists, who together discover the amazing magically real universe we live in.
Let’s start to celebrate our great inspirers before they die, and let them live forever through the preservation of their timeless works.
Let’s rid ourselves of the outdated ideas of nationality and nationalism.
Let’s be post-national cosmopolitans who chose platforms instead of nations.
Let’s be urban melting-pots, that culturally appropriate everything that is good, and discard all that is bad.
Let creative leisure become a virtue instead of a sin.
Let creativity be rewarded not only for private profit, but also for meaningful contribution to society.
Let us strive for more automation, to free us from the scarcity and toil that the ancient Greek philosophers knew to despise.
Let liberalism be our moral foundation.
Let equality keep our liberalism in line.
Let diversity be a simple matter of fact.
Let us be post-cynical and free us from mental allergies.
Let us be dead serious in our speeches of incorrect, inconvenient truths.
Let us enjoy ourselves, while we spread out and take over societies from within.
Let’s finally be the post-cynical technohippies, punk capitalists,
radical centrists, post-racial, metafeminist, whatever-gender egalitarian people;
the new renaissance men; children of the future; pro-am citizen scientists.
We no longer have to suffer from the depressing postmodern condition.
Let us be the change that reactionaries can’t begin to imagine.
We can be the better future, if we let ourselves be metamodernists.
If two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [”I am a roman citizen”], and fourty-three years ago it was Ich bin ein Berliner!, then today, that boast, is ”I am a metamodernist.”
Let the world know you are, so others will recognize their fellow metamodernist. Tweet it, post it, write to the local newspaper. Convene at the symposium; play the funk of the future so everyone can hear.
Celebrate the downfall of ”The End”.
Celebrate the new beginning of history.
The time has come.